March 4, 2016

The strategy behind design

Without delving too deeply into the subject of strategies, a strategy is a plan for how to achieve a goal. The strategy is the overall plan and the tactics are a set of techniques or procedures to complete this goal. Strategies govern the actions of business developing policies or differentiations from competitors, and guides decision-making.

Business strategies are the foundation of design strategies. Although, it’s wise to remember that while they may often walk hand-in-hand, they are not they same thing. Technically, design strategy as an industry field of concepts, theories and practices, refers to the universal planning process, which captures the relationship between design and business strategy. In more general terms, the design strategy can simply be the conceptual foundation of all creative design work or ideas that deal with emotions or reactions.

What is design strategy?

There isn’t one particular definition for design strategy, as it is more of an evolving principal than a set series of guides or trends. However, the goal remains the same, merge the business strategies with the design objectives to create something more than a purely aesthetic exercise and create a bridge between the strategies as a whole.

“When we integrate design processes and design thinking into the larger business goals of our companies or clients, we elevate the concept of design to a strategic tool that businesses can leverage.”

Rob Bynder, creative director and owner of RBD

Because we are looking to link design and business strategies – it’s important to remember they need to work together but they are required to meet different needs. Business strategies generally include things like financial, product or market objectives whereas the design strategies are best thought of as more like a visual guide to fuel and grow these objectives. In business, you need to be a supreme and engaging storyteller and using design as a means to tell your story is a pivotal part of this process.

What should you consider in your design strategy?

All design strategies should address the following situations:

  • Previous successes and current benefits
  • Client needs
  • Changing client/consumer behaviors
  • New trends/emerging markets
  • Opportunities to differentiate from competitors
  • Any existing issues or ongoing challenges

In what situations does design strategy assist?

From the ground up, application of design can assist business strategies as a whole, however here are a few examples of real world applications.


Promoting the adoption of a technology

Toyota designed the hybrid Prius to resemble the conventional and conservative Echo rather than making the Prius look high-tech and adventuresome, which may have caused hesitation in the marketplace.


Integrating design as a central characteristic of brand intentions

Tom Hardy (Design Strategist) developed the core brand principle, “Balance of Reason & Feeling” for Samsung Electronics. This statement combined rational and emotional characteristics to guide the internal and external brand design program, which inspired differentiation and raised the company’s global public image.


Identify the most important questions about company’s product or service

John Rheinfrank of Fitch Design showed the world that Kodak’s line of disposable cameras didn’t replace the need for traditional cameras, but instead met other specific needs like underwater photography and amusement.


Turning insights into actionable campaigns

Jump Associates assisted Target transform their understanding of college students into a range of products targeted specifically for students and their dorm rooms.

Many companies already understand the need for their business and design strategies to work together. It is a beneficial venture to undertake and when applied correctly, should produce new ways of thinking and a clear, developed approach to the overall business strategies.